GENEVA • While the link between smoking and a range of cancers is well known, the World Health Organisation warned yesterday there was too little awareness of tobacco's impact on the human heart.
On World No Tobacco Day, the United Nations health agency hailed the fact smoking had declined significantly since 2000, but warned that there far too many people still indulged in the dangerous habit.
And it cautioned that research revealed "a serious lack of knowledge" about the various health risks.
Tobacco use has been linked to more than seven million deaths worldwide each year, including some 890,000 from breathing in second-hand smoke.
But many people are unaware that around three million of those deaths, are due to cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and stroke, the WHO warned.
"Most people know that using tobacco causes cancer and lung disease, but many people aren't aware that tobacco also causes heart disease and stroke - the world's leading killers," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
"Tobacco doesn't just cause cancer. It quite literally breaks hearts."
The smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including tar and others that can narrow arteries and damage blood vessels, and nicotine, which is associated with increases in heart rate and blood pressure.
Smoking also unleashes poisonous gases like carbon monoxide, which replaces oxygen in the blood, reducing oxygen available for the heart muscle, the WHO said.
The agency pointed out that tobacco use is responsible for around 17 per cent of the nearly 18 million deaths from cardiovascular disease around the globe each year.
Yet in many countries, there is very low awareness that smoking significantly increases your chances of developing cardiovascular disease.
In China, a large WHO survey showed that more than 60 per cent of the population is unaware that smoking can cause heart attacks, while in India and Indonesia, more than half of adults are unaware that smoking can cause stroke.
According to a new WHO report, the percentage of people worldwide who indulge in the habit fell from 27 per cent in 2000 to 20 per cent in 2016. But it warned that the pace of reduction was too slow.
Due to population growth, the number of smokers has remained relatively stable at around 1.1 billion, Dr Douglas Bettcher, who heads WHO's non-communicable disease prevention unit, told reporters.